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The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has provided financial relief for rail freight operators to allow them to continue supply Australians with essential goods during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The ARTC has extended payment terms for existing access charges and deferred the consumer price index (CPI) increase that was scheduled for July.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack welcomed the ARTC’s decision.
“Rail freight companies have worked tirelessly to service the initial growth in consumer demand during the pandemic to keep Australia open for business by supplying the essential goods that have supported our nation through this global health crisis,” he said.
While demand initially peaked at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a fall in consumer demand followed along with drops in production, which have put strain on some operators. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the ARTC’s measures would enable freight operators to manage the uncertain environment.
“The government is very pleased to see ARTC working with its customers, government and industry to build resilience in our freight and supply chain network during what is a difficult period.”
Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle said that the ARTC’s decision would support the rail freight sector.
“Pacific National very much welcomes the initiative by the Australian Government and ARTC board to extend payment terms for rail freight operators for ARTC access charges from 30 to 90 days, not to mention the freeze in CPI increase from 1 July to 1 October. It’s a great step in the right direction for interstate rail freight.”
Dalla Valle also highlighted that the move would increase the competitiveness of rail, as road transport had benefited from fixed user charges for the past four years.
“We do need to point out that in the last 12 years, rail access charges on the ARTC interstate network have increased annually by CPI. In comparison, for the last four years the Transport and Infrastructure Council of Australia have frozen heavy vehicle road user charges (2015-16 to 2019-20). This pricing setting has now been extended for another financial year (2020-21),” said Dalla Valle.
“The lack of competitive neutrality in pricing between rail and road freight has created an uneven playing field. It has been a large contributing factor in perverse outcomes like 98 percent of containerised and palletised freight now being transported by truck between Sydney and Melbourne (equivalent to more than 700,000 B-double truck return trips on the Hume Highway each year).”
Dalla Valle said that the current decision reconfirmed the need to review freight transport pricing arrangements.
“Pacific National understands and appreciates ARTC is a ‘wholly-owned Commonwealth company’ and, as such, must earn a rate of return for the Australian taxpayer. However, when the focus on delivering government dividends becomes all-consuming to the point of making interstate and regional rail freight uncompetitive with road (and increasingly coastal shipping) and ignoring the many beneficial externalities of rail freight, then current pricing models must be seriously looked at.
“This is happening at a time when Australians want less traffic congestion, reduced road accidents and fatalities (of which we have seen a spate of terrible incidents recently), lower vehicle emissions, and less ‘wear and tear’ on roads.”
CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, Kirk Coningham, welcomed the ARTC’s decision.
“This is a positive move that provides practical support for freight rail operators at a challenging time as they keep our supply chains moving. ALC applauds this proactive approach from ARTC,” he said.
“This practical relief is a useful reminder of the incredible job freight and logistics operators are doing as they continue to deliver for Australian communities, despite the significant economic hurdles many are now facing.”
Both McCormack and Cormann highlighted how vital the freight network is to Australia.
“Our efficient freight network is critical to ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and our valuable export commodities can reach overseas markets – both of which have been vital during this pandemic,” said McCormack.
“Each year, Australia’s freight and supply chain networks deliver billions of tonnes of goods across the country,” said Cormann.
“ARTC plays a significant role in making this possible through its management of national rail infrastructure. We welcome its response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has ensured freight rail operators are able to continue providing an important service Australians and the Australian economy rely on.”
An industry-government oversight group has been formed for the introduction of the Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) on Australia’s interstate freight rail network.
With the system now operational between Port August and Whyalla and ready to be deployed between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie, the industry-government reference group will streamline implementation between the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and nine major rail freight businesses.
“I meet and consult with industry regularly and following discussions in March, the Australian government has agreed to support the establishment of the group to explore opportunities to accelerate the deployment of ATMS,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.
The federal government has provided $110.8 in funding for the development of ATMS, which alleviates the reliance on trackside signalling infrastructure by using GPS navigation systems and mobile internet. The system was developed by Lockheed Martin on behalf of ARTC.
“It has been custom-engineered and tested under Australian conditions and has proven both its safety and capability required for a staged deployment across the wider national interstate rail network operated by ARTC,” said McCormack.
“The system is in the final stage of being certified as the primary safe working system between Port Augusta and Whyalla with the next section for deployment to be between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie from next year.”
The industry-government oversight group will provide industry engagement and agreement on the approach, roll-out, staging strategy, and funding for ATMS. In mid-2020 the group is expected to provide advice on the broader rollout of ATMS.
Chair of the Freight on Rail Group, which represents the nine major freight businesses involved in the oversight group, Dean Dalla Valle, said that the system will improve Australia’s rail freight network.
“ATMS will vastly improve rail safety by allowing freight trains to be remotely controlled during an emergency, including automatic braking, and boost efficiency of services on both dedicated freight lines and shared rail networks.
“ARTC has ensured industry was at the forefront of consultation over the ten years of development of the new technology and FORG will continue that collegiate-approach through this working group to help fast-track the roll-out of ATMS,” said Dalla Valle.
By allowing for more efficient use of the freight rail network, ATMS is expected to increase rail capacity, as well as reliability and safety.
“To help recover from the deep economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia must embrace and leverage new and improved technologies throughout its national supply chains,” said Dalla Valle.
“Its home grown, state-of-the-art technology which our sector and the Australian people should be very proud of.”
Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), said that the group has been formed at the right time.
“The creation of the oversight group will bring significant industry knowledge to the table to guide this important next phase of the project.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that improvements to the rail network will deliver benefits for the wider community.
“A well-developed rail network will help better connect our regions with our cities, our ports and beyond, ensuring that Australian businesses can sell as many products and services as possible into markets around the world while also making sure that domestically we are in the strongest possible position,” said Cormann.
“Our government looks forward to engaging with industry to drive improvements and further strengthen our rail sector.”
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found that a broken rail led to the derailment of a freight train near Goulburn on March 31, 2019.
As the SCT Logistics freight train, travelling from Melbourne to Brisbane, exited a refuge loop in Goulburn, NSW five wagons derailed, obstructing both the Up and Down main lines.
The driver of the train had just been authorised to pass the immediately preceding signal at Stop, which could not be cleared due to a track circuit fault. Another train had passed through the refuge the night before when the fault occurred. The network controlled and the on-call signal electrician had consulted and agreed that trains could continue passing the Stop signal.
After the derailment, the NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigation (OTSI) had conducted an investigation on behalf of the ATSB. OTSI found that the immediate cause of the derailment was a broken rail, which had likely occurred after the previous train, and the break had caused the signal to be stuck at Stop. The broken rail had not been detected.
The point where the rail in question had broken was where a crack had formed between two different sized rails that had been joined in an aluminothermic junction weld. Further examination of the track found that the existing crack was not easily detectable through continuous ultrasonic testing or routine maintenance.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which managed the section of track engaged an independent metallurgist to study the rail after the derailment. The metallurgist found there was a lack of weld fusion on the foot of the rail between the two rail types and was undetected at the time of welding. This, along with the difficulty detecting the crack afterwards, reinforced the need for thorough inspection said OTSI COO and deputy chief investigator Kevin Kitchen.
“It is critical that areas of the rail that cannot be easily inspected during scheduled continuous ultrasonic testing are tested thoroughly at the time of welding to ensure that the weld is free from defects,” said Kitchen.
The investigation also found that other factors increased the risk in relation to the occurrence. OTSI and ATSB noted the network rules were one of these factors.
“Network rules that permit degraded operations must be assessed to ensure that the application of these rules do not increase risk to an unacceptable level,” said Kitchen.
“Personnel responsible for implementing these rules should have sufficient guidance to assess when it is safe to continue operating trains, or under what conditions operations can continue.”
The investigation also found that the sleepers underneath the track were decayed and the ballast appeared fouled with mud and dirt.
Mark Campbell is the new CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).
Campbell will take over from John Fullerton after his appointment was confirmed by the board of the ARTC.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack welcomed Campbell to the top of the national rail track manager.
“We look forward to working closely with Campbell and continuing a strong professional relationship with the ARTC board and management as we deliver the 1,700-kilometre Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail and improve and maintain some 8,500 kilometres of rail,” said McCormack.
Campbell will oversee some of the many projects that Fullerton led, including the Inland Rail project which began during Fullerton’s time as CEO, as well as improvements to Australia’s national freight network. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann thanked Fullerton for his time at the head of ARTC.
“During Fullerton’s tenure, the ARTC made significant improvements to the efficiency and competitiveness of Australia’s interstate rail network.
“The ARTC also commenced delivery of Inland Rail under Fullerton’s leadership. Inland Rail will be the spine of Australia’s freight network, supporting 16,000 jobs during construction and providing a $16 billion boost to our national economy over the long term.”
Warren Truss, ARTC chairman, welcomed Campbell to the organisation and acknowledged the work done by Fullerton.
“We look forward to Campbell leading ARTC into an exciting future for Australia’s rail sector, which is set to play an increased role in the freight and transport industry over the next decade to help drive national productivity and the economic growth of the nation.
“On behalf of the ARTC Board, I would like to pay tribute to Fullerton for his outstanding career in the rail industry, which has spanned more than 40 years, including the past nine as head of ARTC. Unyielding in his efforts to promote the value of rail and transport supply chains to the national economy, Fullerton’s knowledge and guidance will be greatly missed, but we wish him every happiness in the future.”
Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed Campbell’s appointment and thanked Fullerton for his work in the rail industry.
“Under his leadership, the ARTC has been reinvigorated through a wide-reaching transformation program that has seen the company become more competitive, customer-focused and results-oriented.”
Fullerton has put in place an organisation with the capacity to construct and maintain billions of dollars’ worth of rail infrastructure, and led change within ARTC itself, resulting in major advances in the company’s safety performance, customer focus, and asset improvement.”
Kirk Coningham, CEO of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) highlighted the significant steps forward taken during Fullerton’s time as CEO.
“The decision of the Federal Government to fund the construction of Inland Rail in 2017 was a watershed moment, following many years of advocacy by our organisation and the leading transport and logistics companies we represent.
The success of the industry-led Inland Rail Conference first staged by ALC and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) in Parkes in 2018 and then in Toowoomba last year was greatly enhanced by ARTC’s active support, and in particular by Fullerton’s commitment to ensuring regional communities share in the economic benefits of this once-in-a-generation freight infrastructure project.”
Campbell was most recently the CEO and managing director of Holcim Australia and New Zealand, which supplies aggregates, concrete, and concrete products in Australia and New Zealand. Prior to Holcim, Campbell worked in other construction materials and quarrying companies in Australia, Malaysia, and the UK and has a background in civil engineering.
“Campbell’s extensive prior experience in the construction and infrastructure sectors means he is well-placed to continue driving the improvements to rail infrastructure and safety which are at the heart of all ARTC’s activities,” said Coningham.
“ALC looks forward to working closely with Mr Campbell and the entire ARTC team when he takes up his new position.”
Infrastructure Australia will add the Port Botany Rail Line Duplication and Cabramatta Passing Loop project to the body’s Infrastructure Priority List.
The recognition signals the project as a significant one for not just the rail freight network, but wider, national supply chains. Chief Executive of Infrastructure Romilly Madew highlighted how the project is critical.
“Port Botany handles 99 per cent of NSW’s container demand, making it a critical international gateway for Australia and a backbone asset for economic product within Sydney and New South Wales,” she said.
“With demand only increasing, it is vital that Port Botany maintains throughput capacity to meet container growth over the long term.”
The dual projects provide for an increase in the capacity of rail to deliver containers to Port Botany. The project involves duplicating 2.9km of the line and constructing a passing loop at Cabramatta on the Southern Sydney Freight Line.
Moving more containers by rail will also benefit surrounding suburbs and road networks, said Madew.
“Currently more than 80 per cent of containers to and from Port Botany are transported by road.
“This worsens congestion on the Sydney road network, particularly in and around the already constrained Port Botany precinct, which includes Sydney Airport and the M5 Motorway.”
The project would further improve supply chains by increasing capacity on the Southern Sydney Freight Line and the Port Botany rail line, which are forecast to exceed capacity by 2023 and 2026, respectively.
A number of intermodal terminals are also planned for the Sydney basin, including at St Marys and a future site near Western Sydney Airport, and demand for greater rail capacity is also being generated by the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal and the Enfield Intermodal Terminal.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack welcomed Infrastructure Australia’s determination on the $400 million project.
“It’s great to see job-creating infrastructure and freight initiatives such as these recognised as priority projects by Infrastructure Australia, particularly at a time when getting goods to consumers is so essential.”
An upgrade of the existing line to Port Botany was also recently completed.
John Fullerton, CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which is overseeing the project, highlighted that efficient supply chains are more important than ever.
“We have all seen how critical our transport and freight sector is during the current COVID-19 crisis.
“These two projects are essential to helping Sydney, and New South Wales, in meeting its future freight demands. Containers are expected to grow from 2.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) to 8.4m TEUs by 2045. Rail can and needs to carry more of the freight task, not only through Port Botany – but across the country.”
CEO of NSW Ports, Marika Calfas, said that work should begin as soon as possible on the duplication and passing loop.
“Having been under development for many years, this project is ‘shovel ready’ and should be progressed as a priority to deliver long term port supply chain productivity benefits and provide needed economic stimulus for NSW.”
Calfas highlighted that Port Botany is hoping to significantly increase the number of containers moved by rail.
“Port Botany is the only container port in Australia with on-dock rail at all three of its container terminals and, together with the stevedores, we are making significant investments to increase port-side rail capacity to meet this goal. The first stage of investment of $190 million commenced in 2019 and will be complete by 2023. This will double existing rail capacity at Port Botany.”
CEO of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Kirk Coningham, said that the organisation is ready to progress the project.
“ALC hopes governments will now work with industry to expedite the delivery of this priority project, to strengthen the efficiency of our supply chains and help provide economic stimulus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In January this year, ARTC announced that it had shortlisted three contractors for the Botany Rail Duplication project, and that John Holland has been shortlisted for the Cabramatta Loop project.
Extra freight services have been running across the Sydney network to service the increased demand for essential supplies and to ensure Australia’s exports get to ports.
Chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia, Dean Dalla Valle, highlighted that by working with the Transport for NSW Freight Access and Performance Unit and the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) extra capacity on Sydney’s normally busy network has been opened up.
“Freeing up extra paths on Sydney’s rail network, notably for goods trains, is a smart, quick and cost-efficient way to help support and amplify critical freight activity in the economy.
“It means freight trains can access more paths during peak morning and afternoon periods, which normally would not be available, to better service the transport supply chain.”
Under normal conditions, freight trains cannot run on the Sydney network between 6am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm due to the priority being given to commuter services, and access is limited on the shoulder of these peaks. In all, there is only 10 hours of access for freight trains to vital ports such as Botany, Kembla, and Newcastle.
Access to Port Botany, in particular, is restricted, being located just south of the Sydney CBD and accessible via some of the most heavily congested lines in the network. However, Dalla Valle noted, the Sydney network is a critical hub for freight in NSW.
“For example, each day thousands of import and export shipping containers arriving or leaving Port Botany pass through key rail depots and terminals at Chullora, Enfield, Minto, Cooks River and Moorebank,” he said.
“Similarly, goods trains running between Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have to be threaded through the Flemington rail junction – rail’s equivalent of passing through the eye of a national logistics needle.
“Likewise, grain originating from central west NSW to be converted into food and industrial ingredients like flour, starch, and ethanol at Manildra Group’s Nowra facility is hauled via the Flemington junction to eventually join the South Coast-Illawarra railway line,” said Dalla Valle.
With demand for household goods increasing and key supplies such as ethanol for handsantiser more essential than ever, having easy access to the Sydney network is critical for the national supply chain to function smoothly.
“Every grocery item delivered to a supermarket, every batch of medical supplies made available to hospitals, every tonne of grain delivered to a flour mill or ethanol plant, every tonne of coking coal delivered to a steel mill, or every tonne of thermal coal delivered to a power station to provide baseload electricity to Australian cities and towns – all this counts,” said Dalla Valle.
As the economy starts to get going again, having smooth and efficient supply chains will only become more critical, said Dalla Valle.
“Economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will benefit greatly from essential rail freight services having greater access in the future to the Sydney Trains’ network.
“Our proud sector helps underpin a vital and finely tuned component of our economy. If we don’t plug away 24/7, 365 days of the year, rain, hail or shine then the arteries of our economic trade will quickly clog up,” he said.
To limit the possibility of any spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) strict protocols have been put in place at depots, terminals, and maintenance facilities.
The Freight on Rail Group of Australia is made of up major rail freight businesses including Pacific National, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), One Rail Australia, Aurizon, Qube Holdings, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia and Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR).
Four regional students have been awarded scholarships valued at up to $20,000 each as part of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Inland Rail scholarship program.
The four students from regional Queensland are the first to be awarded scholarships under ARTC’s Inland Rail Skills Academy.
The scholarships for the University of Southern Queensland will provide the four students with support from Inland Rail as they continue their studies at the university.
In announcing the scholarships, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the Inland Rail Skills Academy was investing in Australia’s youth.
“Along with 16,000 jobs created during Inland Rail’s construction, this is a long term investment in young people and a commitment to support jobs and skill development through the delivery of Inland Rail,” McCormack said.
“Every person trained through Inland Rail will have skills and expertise to take back to their communities, wherever they are in Australia, which will help boost local economies.”
The ARTC’s scholarship program is open to undergraduate students living in areas close to the Inland Rail route, giving financial assistance of $5,000 per year to study with a total value of up to $20,000 each.
Mathias Cormann, minister for finance said that beyond the $16 billion boost from its construction, Inland Rail can add another $13 billion in value to gross regional product over its first 50 years, depending on the conditions to invest along the rail line.
“It’s good to see the Inland Rail Skills Academy doing their part to build the workforce capability that will attract and retain investment to regional Australia and boost economic output for the long-term,” he said.
“It’s fantastic that Inland Rail is providing financial support to regional students who might struggle to afford tertiary education – giving them the opportunity to graduate into fulfilling careers and give back to their communities,” Geraldine Mackenzie, University of Southern Queensland’s vice chancellor said.
Awardees of these Queensland scholarships include Sophie Boon, Samuel Butler, Rebecca Hallahan, and Braidyn Newitt.
Rebecca Pickering, ARTC’s Inland Rail director for community and environment said the academy was keen to support students by providing opportunities for them to graduate into careers, which add value to their local regions.
“These scholarships and the employment opportunities they unlock will act as a catalyst for positive change in many regional communities along the Inland Rail alignment. And we are delighted to partner with the University of Southern Queensland in support of our locals,” Pickering said.
Australia’s rail network is ensuring the nation’s supply chain stays intact.
People are working around-the-clock to ensure safe passage for 1,800-metre freight trains carrying essential products for all Australians.
John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcast on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.
“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.
Fullerton said the sector is crucial and rail freight movements on the ARTC network are up approximately 14 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked an unprecedented challenge for Australia’s freight and transport industry, with the country’s demand for critical supplies prompting a surge in rail freight,” he said.
“The rail freight sector has stepped up to ease Australia’s strained supply lines.”
The ARTC CEO leads a team of more than 1600 employees to manage and maintain 8500km of the national rail network.
ARTC employs more than 300 people at its Keswick headquarters in South Australia including network controllers who ensure coordinated passage for the country’s freight trains.
“Freight trains are playing a crucial role in Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – and our frontline teams are really part of a group of workers making sure the economy and society is able to keep functioning during these difficult times,” Fullerton said.
Moving freight has been highlighted by the government as an essential service. Fullerton says the sector has never been more important “which is putting a lot of responsibility on our shoulders”.
However, in collaboration with rail freight customers, government, and industry partners, Fullerton said it’s been wonderful to see teams rise to the challenge to keep Australia’s supply chain intact and the nation’s economy moving.
“We’re really proud to be able to keep freight trains moving and do our bit for Australia, but like other essential service providers, these are testing times for everyone and there’s still a long road ahead,” Fullerton said.
The company also has teams maintaining rail assets across the nation, including in the middle of the Nullarbor, to help move vital freight to its destination.
“There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but we’ll continue to work hard with our customers and partners to ensure supplies continue to ride the rails and get to where they need to be,” he said.
ARTC is continuing to implement strict hygiene protocols and preventative measures to protect the health and safety of staff and local communities in which it operates.
Rather than seeing digitialisation as an end in itself, rail projects are using signalling technology to answer pressing questions.
Driving the digital transformation of industry are four levers – digital data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access – according to global consultancy Roland Berger.
In the rail industry, these levers are being pulled, however instead of being an end in itself, the move towards digital rail is an enabler of a host of other improvements to services.
These outcomes were on display at the Train Control and Management Systems summit, held in Sydney from February 19 to 21. While each individual project used its own combination of data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access, the end outcome was driven by the industry need.
One of these projects is the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Advanced Train Management System (ATMS). Although begun over a decade ago in 2008 with a proof of concept trial, as ARTC operation readiness manager – ATMS, Gary Evans described, the technology has been driven by its outcome and is nearing its first deployment in 2020.
“ATMS will bring improvements in our network rail capacity, operational flexibility, train service availability, transit times, and rail safety, and it will replace trackside signalling by providing precise locations of trains.”
While adopting virtual block authority management similar to other advanced train control systems, ATMS retains the trackside infrastructure.
“Trackside infrastructure is something ARTC does very well and the project monitors the environment, the occupancy of the points, so our system has track circuits over the switches,” said Evans.
Across the ARTC network of 8,500km of track, interlocking between sections of signalling and track will be centralised.
“It’s a high-fidelity track database, it’s rated to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 3 and it enables virtual block authority management. The blocks within which the trains operate are usually a physical block and they are separated by signals, what we do with this system is that we can break it down into virtual, electronic blocks and currently, for the proof of concept we ran about 200m electronic blocks, the ones that we are using at the moment are 500m in length,” said Evans.
The new virtual block system will allow a granularity of control not previously possible.
“In terms of train operation, a train will go through a physical block today every 20 minutes. A train that will go through this same infrastructure will probably consume in the order of eight of these electronic blocks but as it is moving through it will report back at 15 second intervals,” said Evans.
“ATMS is rated for four minute headways for 1,800m trains travelling at 115 km/h.”
While the technology in itself is a step forward for the control and management of train systems, the implementation of the ATMS and the use of the four levels of digital transformation is ultimately about delivering a service for the customer, in this case, freight operators across Australia. This has led to ATMS’s unique features. Having to serve a number of freight operators at various points throughout the freight network that stretches from Kalgoorlie to Newcastle, has led to interoperability being a key facet of ATMS. Retaining trackside infrastructure allows for unequipped train traffic to use the system, and the trainborne interface was developed in consultation with operators.
“We did a lot of work with the operators on the driver interface unit. The first one that was put in front of them was a European-style one, which was a dial type set up and we almost had a walkout of the operators because it didn’t give them a lot of information and it required them to be fixated with that dashboard whereas they wanted something that didn’t require that. We worked together collaborative to come up with the current system.”
The resulting interface gives drivers a 10km look ahead, and relays information on train speed and speed limits in real time. Using location determination systems onboard the train, the system can alert a driver, operator, and controller if the train is exceeding limits.
Evans summarised the benefits of the ATMS system.
“Improved safety authority and speed level enforcement, improved trackside safety for trackside workers, increased rail capacity, improved service reliability, improving the structure of maintenance costs, more flexibility in the network, and safer management of trains.”
While Australia’s rail industry has been plagued by different technologies and standards in each state, the ARTC regards ATMS as a technology to synchronise rail control and management, for the benefit of the end user.
“ARTC’s customers traverse three states so it’s very important for us to take the lead and ATMS provides us a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually have a harmonised rule set,” said Evans.
Having this in place will allow for further innovations driven by the digitalisation of rail control.
“Future enhancements that we will work through is a path to semi automation or automation of operational systems, and integration with fuel and energy management systems.”
Having data on how a train is travelling will allow operators to more efficiently plan routes while identifying driving behaviours that increase fuel costs.
For example, rather than running at full speed through a section of track before coming to a complete stop at a signal, freight drivers can be told the optimum speed to travel to reach that signal as it turns green. Looking further afield, ATMS could lead to driver-only operation. In these cases, digital rail is not so much about the technology itself, but the enhancements that can come from its implementation.
“ARTC wants to be an enabler for its customers and not a disabler,” said Evans.
DIGITALISATION AS A SOLUTION TO DEMOGRAPHIC, ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES
As Australian rail infrastructure managers and operators adopt their local digital systems, international examples provide guidance on the motivations and outcomes of digitalisation programs. Perhaps none are more comprehensive than the digital rail system being rolled out across all of Germany’s 33,000km of rail. Beginning with the trans-European corridor, the Stuttgart S-Bahn and specified high speed lines, Joern Schlichting, head of the ETCS program at Deutsche Bahn (DB), outlined the significance of the project.
“In terms of automatic train operation (ATO) and ETCS, this is the future. That means fundamentally, a new rail system.”
According to Schlichting, Germany’s existing rail control system was performing sufficiently, and not reaching obsolescence. This made the attractiveness of the business case for adopting ETCS, however penalties within the agreement with other EU member states overcame that.
“The projected penalties would have been at least €1 billion if we didn’t equip these corridors. So, the German government said if we have to spend €1bn on penalties or equipment, let’s spend it on equipment.”
This presented an opportunity for DB and its rail infrastructure arm, DB Netz to rethink how the adoption of ETCS could be a further enabler for other issues the rail network was facing.
“Why not stop to think about how could we make the best out of it?”
This approach enabled DB to utilise the digital rail technology to confront two critical issues facing the sector – a demographic exodus and a modal shift from road to rail to reduce carbon emissions.
“What we found that is as long as we talked about ETCS as a technology issue in terms of replacing one thing by another thing there was no business case. As soon as we started to think about what the real business drivers are – what are our threats – then we found out our demographic issue is one of the worst,” said Schlichting.
In 2011, DB estimated that in the next 10-15 years, 50 per cent of mission-critical staff will retire. Replacing this staff cohort with a younger generation would require a rethink of the type of work train operators would be doing, particularly in regards to legacy systems such as interlockings.
“With these old interlockings, we have one maintenance area where we have 18 generations of interlockings, so you can imagine it’s a nightmare for people working there to be able to maintain them.”
Moving to digital systems would overcome this legacy issue and enable a younger, digital-native generation to easily fit into the systems and ways of working.
“Actually ETCS is more of an enabler. ETCS is a tool in order to bring about a completely new redesign of the rail system,” said Schlichting.
The other element that digitalisation could go towards is the relative carbon footprint of transport in Germany. Although Germany has committed to a 95 per cent carbon reduction by 2050, transport has been a sector that has been stubborn in reducing its emissions, falling by only 0.6 per cent between 1990 and 2018, compared to energy which dropped by 33 per cent. The magnitude of the task is not lost on Schlichting.
“We have to move transport from road to rail, so that means we need to create the capacity, but in the past our network has been shrinking.”
Driven by cost cutting directives, DB has reduced its workforce from 120,000 to 40,000 in the past 15 years and has also torn up tracks and points. However, now the system is required to double passenger traffic by 2030, and cargo traffic by 30 per cent. Digitalisation and the improvement of signalling thus becomes a way to increase the shrinking system’s capacity.
“How can we do this with an existing network that has been shrinking in the past and without having any money at the time for loads of new lines?” asked Schlichting.“Digitising it is the chance to create more traffic.”
At the core of this digitalisation push is the adoption of ETCS technology, common across Europe, which with a focus on outcomes, Schlichting describes as a “language”. Once the system and vehicles are talking to each other in this language, then further technology improvements can be introduced when the users demand it, just like new vocabulary.
DESIGNING A CUSTOMER FOCUS INTO RAIL OPERATIONS
In some ways, Sydney Trains is experiencing a similar issue to DB, albeit on a smaller scale, as population pressures and urban development cause more Sydneysiders to use the network. As the acting executive director, Digital Systems Business Integration (DSBI) at Sydney Trains, Andrew Constantinou sees these impacts in the operations of the network.
“Increased patronage effectively translates into our ability to create more services and our ability to create reliable services and that’s where the ROC plays into.”
The Rail Operations Centre (ROC) is a new, purpose-built building in Alexandria, Sydney which has brought together the rail management centre, the infrastructure control centre, security monitoring facility and two signal boxes, covering most of the geography of Sydney Rail. A customer and operator demand for precise, accurate information has led to the streamlining of operations into one centre and finding a way to simplify communications.
“Part of the scope is to develop a new concept of operations,” said Constantinou. “We have introduced a new incident management system that took away a lot of those phone calls, and developed a dashboard so that all areas in the ROC can understand what is the mission for that particular incident and who is dealing with what priorities.”
In this case, the digital systems that were built into the ROC had to be designed with the end user in mind, the rail operator, and to minimise disruptions on the network.
“It really starts with bringing all your people together. We started with seven design principles and I focus on the top two – collaboration and communication – because if you can build a high-performing control room floor that fosters good communication and good collaboration, you start ticking the other boxes which are underneath it,” said Constantinou.
While individual controllers’ roles were driven by the train systems they were operating, the human demands of communication were paramount.
“We looked at what communication happened. So what communication happened face to face, on the control room floor, over the telephone, and through various subsystems?
“We did that two-fold. We did that in normal mode and we did that in degraded mode. That gave us an idea around who spoke to whom and when did they speak to whom,” said Constantinou.
Ahead of designing the space, Constantinou’s team conducted a role matrix to see where the patterns in operations were, particularly in degraded mode.
With the Sydney Trains network compressing from 15 lines across the suburban network into six in the CBD, getting those critical staff together would be key for functional communication.
“We were able to say 50 roles in network operations were similar and should be sitting next to each other,” said Constantinou. “We quickly worked out which ones were the more critical to operations, which of those roles needed more supervision, which should be configured in a way that they have more supervision around them, and that led to a functional link analysis to understand if there were any functional commonality in the roles.”
With these findings, operations staff were then given a VR headset so that they could inspect the draft design and see how it fitted with their behaviour.
“We set up outside every control centre with a basic fit out where people would come in and put on the masks. They would walk around the desks and the control room floor and we would take every comment down to see how we could respond to it,” said Constantinou.
Following this was trial runs in defined scenarios, such as a tree falling over a rail corridor and a train colliding with the tree.
“You can see the phone calls that go in from the driver to the area controller and the different colours are typically people who would’ve been located in different control centres,” said Constantinou.
“They would’ve, through situational awareness, overheard the conversation because they’re sitting at the right proximity, or they would’ve been able to swing around and talk to these people.
“If you start doing the maths, it’s all the way from a two minute to a 10-minute saving threading through that scenario, so it’s good to know we can save time,” said Constantinou.
At the newly designed ROC, which opened in mid 2019, data, connectivity, and customer access came together, however with the outcome determined by the end user, not the technology itself.